The God Who May Be – A Via Tertia (third way)
In contrast to the radically transcendent theologies of negative theology and mystical postmodernism, Kearney proposes his interpretation of God as the One who is not nor is, but may-be. Onto-theology and negative theology, that is, a theology of God as Being and a theology of God as non-being, are the two extremes that Kearney wants to avoid.
Kearney mentions that Philo’s translation of Exodus 3.14 is particularly important for in it “he insisted that God here reveals not his content (whatness-essence) but only that he exists…” (35) He then details Meister Eckhart’s commentary on Exodus 3.14 which postulates a God who is distant, yet present. This was a very muddy section for me, so I can’t really comment too much on it. Unfortunately this is where Kearney’s poetic writing style gets in the way of clarity (and for the most part, I really enjoy Kearney’s style and find it easier to understand that some other authors…this section being the exception).
To Eckhart, God is both “pure gift and passage.” God gives himself without expecting anything in return from Creation–“Pure gift in the sense of self-giving beyond the economic condition of return.” (36) Being, Eckhart argues, is the possession of God and only he can give it. By passage, Eckhart argues for a dynamic God who remains faithful but not static. Moreover, God traverses Being and becomes beyond Being-itself, thus avoiding onto-theology that creates God into the Supreme Being. God passes, migrates, transitions, traverses, to use the language of Kearney, through Being to something greater, beyond Being. This is, Kearney puts it simply, “A self-emptying movement of metaphysics beyond itself.” (37)
This is a traversal of God, or, in Kearney’s language, a movement that is called transfiguration.
Kearney also finds echoes of the God-who-may-be in Nicholas of Cusa’s assertion that the only possible and proper name for God is possest, which essentially means “absolute possibility which includes all that is actual.” (37) God “is what he is able to be,” writes Cusa. (37) This suggests that God is to be understood not as Being-itself and not as a non-being. Kearney goes into more detail in the conclusion so I will try to unpack Cusa’s thoughts then.
Schelling also contributes to the conversation in defining God as a “possibility-to-be” and Heidegger and Derrida also suggest a reimagination of God as a possibility and not pure actuality.
The implications of the God-who-may-be are not really explored in this chapter but later on in the conclusion. But the basic implication is the fulfillment of love and justice in the world; the transfiguration of the world into a more perfect image of God, into, as Kearney says elsewhere, an icon of the invisible.
Let me conclude with the following surmises: In the circular words, I-am-who-may-be, God transfigures and exceeds being…The Exodus 3.14 exchange between God and Moses might, I have been suggesting, be usefully reread not as the manifestation of some secret name but as a pledge to remain constant to a promise. God…seems to say something like this: I am who may be if you continue to keep my word and struggle for the coming of justice. (37-38)
The God of Exodus is a personal God who is committed to be a gift if one receives him as a gift. There is the necessity of choice in the response of Moses. Moses could have said ‘No’ to God, either directly, or indirectly by ignoring the Burning Bush. But he chose to respond to God and as such, God became a reality in the world. This is a God who does not force himself upon Creation in some sort of Divine assault. The God who is both the giver and the gift does not make the recipient receive, unless the recipient chooses to receive. Imagine us trying to force our loved one to receive a gift if they actually do not want it. It is no longer a gift, and we are no longer a giver. We become an assailant and our gift becomes an attack (even if we think we are giving a nice gift!).
Faithfulness is the responsibility of both God and Moses: God must remain true to his word to remain with Moses and to walk by him in the midst of darkness. Moses is terrified of his mission because he cannot speak. God remains faithful by promising to provide him with the grace to fulfill his mission. Moses on the other hand must remain faithful and not run away, like Jonah for example, from his mission. Often we rely on marital metaphors to explain the relationship between God and the world, or Christ and the Church, or, for the mystics, Christ and themselves (many a nun has spoken about their spiritual marriage to Jesus). Faithfulness and trust in the Other seems to be the difference between life-long love and divorce. (I speak from second hand experience of course.) The covenant initiated between the two spouses-to-be (perhaps another way of thinking about God and Moses or God and the world!) is not one way (at least in our Western understanding of marriage). There must be free and mutual commitment. Why do we assume that the God who is revealed as Love is a Lover who forces himself upon his spouse-to-be like some sex-charged husband pushing his wife to “fulfill” his needs and desires at the expense of her dignity and worth? That is not love.
That is spousal abuse.